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Messages - Thane Messinger

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Incoming 1Ls / Re: To Prep or Not To Prep
« on: July 14, 2013, 02:51:25 AM »
'Tis the season for students to get serious about their first-year adventure about to begin. 

Charles Cooper, author of Later-in-Life Lawyers and swell guy, and I recently wrote a new Book, Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession).  In Con Law we argue that most students should not attend law school.  Both Cooper and I came to this conclusion after many years and much thought.  We even waited a year, to see if things would change.  They have, but not for the better.

On the one side are those who protest that no one should go to law school, ever; on the other are those who dismiss these concerns out of hand--the "special snowflake" defense mechanism.  Obviously both "sides" in the above debate are dangerous if taken alone.

Here's why this is important, and why Cooper's and my earlier advice fit in to the broader advice elsewhere:  Many law students fall into law school, for a variety of personal and family reasons.  Yet the market now is--there's no nice way to put this--horrendous, and it's not likely to improve significantly within three years.  A lucky few will do fine.  This worsens the Snowflake Syndrome.  It's hard to realize that a forced curve WILL impact many students, and one of them could be you.  The market is unforgiving, so you should be especially sensitive to advice of those who've been there, survived that, and care enough to hang around to warn others.

The bottom two tiers of ABA-accredited law schools--one hundred of them--could disappear tomorrow, and the result in the job market would be . . . zero.  If anything, a healthier balance would be struck.  Then (and only then) could law graduates reasonably assume a reasonably good law job would be waiting.  (I was excoriated for stating something along these lines in GGG, written before the Great Recession took hold.  If anything, its warnings are too mild.)

This is worsened by two factors:  (1) the rise of tuition to exorbitant heights, resulting in extraordinarily heavy debt burdens that are nearly certain to limit one's future; and (2) structural changes within the legal profession (for obvious reasons not well disclosed to law students), making the above trends worse.

The point is not to dissuade, or not merely to dissuade.  If one absolutely, positively wants to be a lawyer, and is willing to do the work (and to work throughout law school), and can get accepted to a good law school, at least, with some scholarship options, and is willing to be a very different student in law school than ever before . . . that is the student who should go.  If any of the above qualifiers apply in the negative to you, however, beware.

Choose and read any one of the following:

Con Law (Cooper & Messinger); or Don't Go to Law School (Campos); or Failing Law Schools (Tamanaha); or The Lawyer Bubble (Harper). 

Which one(s)?  It doesn't matter, just as it doesn't matter which commercial outline you buy. It does matter that you read it.

Con Law is priced at $2.99 on Amazon.   

The others should be available in a library, or you could ask them to buy a copy.  Often they will.

You should also read ALL of the following:

Law School Fast Track (Hibbard).  Short but important in its focus on building good law school habits.

Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold (Messinger)

Law School Undercover (Professor "X").  An insider's look behind the curtain.

Slacker's Guide to Law School (Doria). Good section on "Should I go?" and quite funny.

Here's where I'll be a little old-fart-ish:  If you're not willing to read a measly half-dozen books, what on Earth are you doing in law school?  Seriously. A lawyer reads all day. Every day. You'd better damned well like it, and be good at it, and be able to glean what you need from any source, boring or not, and fast.

Then read three books by Morten Lund:

Jagged Rocks of Wisdom: Professional Advice for the New Attorney.

Jagged Rocks of Wisdom--The Memo: Mastering the Legal Memorandum.

Jagged Rocks of Wisdom--Negotiation: Mastering the Art of the Deal

You must read Lund. If you read just one page and can stand it, *that's* law practice.  If you can't stand it, that's an even better--and cheaper--lesson. It's written by a partner, as a partner will speak and think. (Think Drill Instructor but without bullets, or at least without physical bullets.)

If you're in the mood, The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book (Messinger).  It's a bit dated, but its author has his moments.

There's also The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law (Hermmann), but it's so expensive (ABA!) as to be ridiculous. (It's a good book, just not worth that relative to Lund's books. You can pretty much buy two of Lund's for the price of Hermmann's, and Lund's are better.)

I would recommend a few others, but I cannot. Most prelaw books are not just dreck, they're flat-out wrong.  Read them all, and decide for yourself.

Color code cases? Sure, waste your semester until just before finals, and realize you've no idea how to assemble and reframe what you've been reading. Brief cases? Do it just enough to realize what a waste of time it is, and better options to accomplish the same task. Piles of notes?  Yeah, those are bound to help you in May.  Be the best gunner there ever was, and a suck-up to boot? Join the ranks of former-gunner suck-up failures.

Law school does not have to be torture.  In fact, done right, it should be both stimulating and even fun.  It should be and it can be.  It's a lot of work, but not nearly as much as many proclaim.  And it is not make-work.

Law school also does not have to be a path to indentured servitude, as it is for far too many graduates today.  But, avoiding this fate requires serious effort and foresight.


PS:  If anyone cannot afford any of the books above, please send me a note and I will buy you a copy.  I'll add a single request: that you share your views with others, and pay it forward. 

I'm a rising 2L at a school ranked from 15-30. Was slightly below median after right fall semester, but plunged well into the bottom quartile thanks in part to personal circumstances which have since been resolved. :cry: Grades are topsy-turvy and all over the place, ranging from awesome to awesomely bad. I've been positively devastated over the past week. I'm having difficulty concentrating on anything for a sustained period of time and often feel sick to my stomach.

I went to law school for "idealistic" reasons. I was never gunning for BigLaw to begin with. Interested in practice areas like prosecution, indigent legal aid, family law, immigration, juvenile justice, etc. Truly love my summer gig and the pro bono work I did during 1L, but concerned about the future given my unenviable position. Debt will be ~$80K total thanks to a merit scholly, outside schollies/fellowships, and folks helping out with living expenses--not bad, but nothing to sneeze at.

Can I overcome this? I personally don't want to leave, but in life what we desire is not always what's best for us. If anyone can provide some guidance and TLC, I would greatly appreciate it.

Confused -

First, you're not alone.  As to what you should do, that depends on the answer to the always-primary but often overlooked question:  "Do I really, truly love law?"

[See the nearby thread as to the expanded discussion on this question.]

If the answer is yes, then there are options.  You will have to work very, very hard to overcome the grade issue, but there are options at your school's level.

If the answer is "no" or "I'm not sure," then let's explore . . .


Current Law Students / Re: HELP!!! Rising 3L... What should I do?
« on: June 22, 2013, 07:53:29 PM »
@ Thane:  I have started my internship and I know at this point, law is my passion.  I have wanted to be an attorney my entire life and at this point I am unable to imagine my future without it (as corny as this sounds).  I do appreciate your advice and I would probably take it if I could picture my future outside of the law field.  Thank you for the advice and reply, I do really appreciate it!

@Legend:  Again, Thank you for your advice as well.  I still have not checked into transferring back to my old school, however I think it is possible because I would still hold a majority of my credits from the transfer institution.  Either way, I will likely gain more experience with MC questions at my current law school and that will be the best bar prep. I appreciate your reply and hopefully I will continue to plug away through the wonderful world of law school.

Congratulations, Fishee, as this is the key.  You will, at this point, have to re-double and re-triple your efforts in getting the skills and experience and contacts to maintain a toehold in a professional legal capacity.  Pay close attention to those contacts, and keep working no matter what.  Do excellent work, do twice as well as you think you'll have to, and you'll be okay.  Again, congratulations.

As to transferring, there's a book, Art of the Law School Transfer, that might help.  In particular, consider the impact on scholarships, both negative and positive.  This can make a huge difference to your overall costs.


Current Law Students / Re: What are my options?
« on: June 12, 2013, 04:03:55 PM »
Just received my grade and in dire need of some advice.  Just received my grade and I didn't do well thus, wondering if I should withdraw from my law school and come back later.   Any advice?

CaliLaw13 -

There's a (radical) response to Rising 3L in another thread. 

Does that advice apply to you?  If not, let's bring into the discussion why not, and we'll help figure it out from there. 


PS:  The offer to 3L is open to you as well.

Current Law Students / Re: HELP!!! Rising 3L... What should I do?
« on: June 12, 2013, 04:01:13 PM »
   I am a rising 3L at a tier three school, I am almost last in my class with  cumulative GPA of 2.37.  The school requires that I maintain at least a 2.25 to graduate, which is not terrible but based on my 2L semester I am definitely at risk.  My question is what should I do, if I graduate with low grades like this from a tier 3, will I be able to find a job?

* * *

-What should I do?  I want to pass the bar and get a job.  I do not expect a 6 figure job, but enough to pay my loan debt and not be unemployed...  Any advice is helpful...

Fishee21 -

I wouldn't have written this before, but will now:

You have a summer internship, which for you might be the acid test.  After three weeks, ask yourself:  "Do I love this?" 

Not just "like," but "Do I really, truly, honestly love . . . LOVE! . . . this job?"

If the answer is anything less than an unreserved "Abolultely, this is fantastic, terrific, and I can't wait to get to the office in the morning!!!", the consider . . .

 . . . not returning in the fall.

I'm serious.  Consider other options.  Is there anything else you would love doing?  [Among other things, might this be an entre for you into the political-staff sphere?  You needn't be a lawyer in many circles there.]

Yes, loans loom large.  Yes, it's horrible.  But it's not as horrible as adding another $50,000+ to your debt, and still not having a good shot at *any* job, plus not liking what you do get (if anything).

Join the military.  Join the merchant marines.  Move to North Dakota and work in the oil fields.  (You'll make more in this last one than you will in nearly any law office.)  Go teach English for a year.

I hate to be a downer, but please do think in terms of what you're giving up.

If you'd be interested, I will buy you a copy of a new book, Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession), by Charles Cooper, author of Later-in-Life Lawyers, and, ah, me.

Send me a private message with your email, and I'll gift you a Kindle or Nook copy.

Best of luck, sincerely,


I know this thread is a few months old, but thanks, livinglegend, for the great advice. I am in a situation similar to the OP, and when I seek advice on these online forums I usually just get a lot of bashing. Your closing line ought to be a sticky: "Bottom line is whether you make it in the legal profession has a lot more to do with you than the school you attended."

Caseycu8 & All -

Livinglegend offers excellent advice. 

As to the "It's not you, it's me" aspect, while that is generally true, two factors should weigh heavily in this discussion:  the abysmal market, and, even with a scholarship, the sizable cost.  (Also, be very, very careful that the scholarship is non-revocable; most can and are lost in the second and third years.  Get it in writing.) 

As to the former, the market, while one might want to believe that its effect is merely on those who are seeking a more traditional path, what we have seen in the collapse of the market is a cascading effect.  I lived this, in 1991 when I graduated into the short but steep recession then.  What is different now is, first, this is anything but short, and second, there may be and likely are structural changes afoot in the practice of law.  The length and severity of the recession, which have left us with approximately half as many jobs annually as there are graduates, is a "bunching" of unemployed, and soon unemployable, law graduates.

As to the structural changes, Charles Cooper and I wrote a book, Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession).  The book goes into greater depth into the above.  (Cooper is author of Later-in-Life Lawyers.)

It seems reasonable (if admittedly self-interested) to state that Con Law (or its more academic cousins, Don't Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor's Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk, by Paul Campus; Failing Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha; and The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis, by Steven Harper) are a minimum of research before embarking on a three-year and multi-hundred-thousand-dollar degree.  (And, by the way, even if you are given scholarships that are not revoked, you will still be "spending" this much money in opportunity costs.)

If, after reading these accounts, one is still insistent . . . excellent.  That is a sign that you should go to law school. 

Once you have decided that, then you should read all the books on law school, and incorporate from each strategies to maximize career options that will be open only to the tippy-top students, especially at non-tippy-top law schools.  Please keep in mind that there are, and have been for the past several years, only one-half as many law jobs (of any kind) as there are law graduates.

A personal take:  do not listen to those who say, or write, some version of "Don't worry, be happy" during, well, now, the summer before you go to law school.  You darned well ought to be worried about, and working toward, doing extremely well.  For most, that requires a sense of what happens in law school that is missing in all but those students who (usually) have a family with a top lawyer or two.  In short, what we think as students is happening in a law classroom is not what is tested on an exam; this is one reason grades are so radically disconnected from what is happening in class.

Best of luck to you,


I have read many of your posts and agree with what you have had to say so I am going to go deep into my pockets and spend the $2.99 on your new book. Hopefully you will start posting on this site again as well.

Aloha, Legend -

A hearty mahalo, and I'll save a mai tai when next you're in town.  = :   )

As to posting, I will try to stay a bit more visible.  It's been quite a hectic 2012 . . . wait, what year it is . . . ?


Aloha, All -

It's been a while since I've had time to post anything here.  I thought I might post a note as to a new resource.  It's . . .

Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (A Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession), by Charles Cooper and Thane Messinger

Given how outrageously expensive everything related to school is, my coauthor (Charles) and I were lucky to get this priced at $2.99, which we hope sticks.  And here's hoping this is a helpful boost to your otherwise precarious finances.  (I also got the price lowered for Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold, which, part three, I hope helps as well.)

In short, Con Law is about the realities of law school and the profession, by two law school graduates, practitioners, and academicians.  While we have ourselves led charmed lives, we have also seen the darker side of the profession, which, over time, has caused us to reflect on legal education.  Law School used to be an easy sale:  spend three years, and a modest sum of money, and you were pretty much set.  This is, of course, no longer true.  But not many students are fully aware of the degree to which is is blatantly false.  Thus, this book.

For those who are wavering about law school, these are crucial perspectives to consider.  For those who are about to enter, the stakes are high.  Very high.  It is, if anything, even more important to lay out your law school "career" with a serious plan as to both how you will approach law school and how you will connect with, and convince, a future employer.

If anyone is willing to read this and provide a critique, and is otherwise reasonably impecunious (a word at least one of your first-year profs will spring on you), please send me an email, to, and I will buy you a copy myself.  [Legal disclaimer:  Limited time offer!]


Here are the links:

Good to hear from an actual attorney.  The guys over at don't seem to think I have a good plan.  Then again, they're the deluded types who think that once they go to a T14 they're going to be at the top 10% of their class, and the big law firms will flock to them.  That may happen to some, but there are too many ifs involved. 

I remember reading somewhere that the bigger law firms are usually started by C students who went to less than prestigious schools, because those guys are willing to take risks, where the A students from the top schools either end up in academia, or at a big firm too scared to leave their 6 figure jobs to do something bigger.  Do I think I'll build the next big law firm in Manhattan?  No, but if some C students from lower end schools can build those firms I can certainly build a business to support myself with a similar background. 

As to pararaph one, exactly right.  Do NOT think that your scores (high or low) will be more than slightly predictive of success in law school.  This is, to a large degree, because most law students are doing the wrong things, and when (if) they figure it out, it's too late.

As to new firms, you'd be surprised.  Nearly everyone in a firm has done *very* well.  It's also misleading to discuss risks, as that is not the driving force of law practice; quite the opposite.  Many forced into solo and small-practice work are exactly that, forced.  Moreover, the value of a firm is not just in the collective expertise, but also in the on-going revenues, based on long-term client contacts.  This is very, very hard to duplicate, even with a large dose of chutzpah.  Community connections are very nice, of course, but there you might parlay that into work in a firm, even if a smallish one.


In my anonymous internet poster opinion I recommend taking the LSAT seeing what score you get. Until you have an official score you cannot get into any law school. Once you have the LSAT score you don't need to enroll in law school right away and you can work for a law office or legal clinic and try it out. If you love it and want to pursue a legal career you have the LSAT score and can proceed. If you find being a lawyer is not for you then you are not obligated to enroll you will be out $100 for the LSAT fee and you will have saved yourself 3 years and 100,000 + dollars.

However, DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT go to law school simply because you do not know what else to do. No matter what profession you are in finding your first job is really difficult and starting as a lawyer is no different. Good luck.

Abolutely right, and especially as to the second paragraph.  Know, too, that simply scoring well on the LSAT . . . even sufficient to get into Yale . . . will NOT translate automatically into great grades (although those are somewhat . . .  somewhat . . . less crucial at a top 5 school), nor will it translate into a career that you actually like. 

I'm working on something with the author of Later-in-Life Lawyers that addresses this point.  And, if you'd like a good look at the Go/No-Go question (which every student, even stellar ones, should consider), one of the best write-ups is in The Slacker's Guide to Law School, which as it happens is a pretty good book for non-slackers too. 


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